Social media started as a place for people to share information, and form and reinforce relationships. Humanity has always been at the heart of social media. The clue is in the name, as it is about being social with other people, including brands.
When we talk about brands being empathetic on social media, this is about social media managers having the authority to step away from corporate sounding prepared scripts and be allowed to tailor brand messaging responses with genuine human emotion.
Yes, people want information and facts from brands, but they need to be delivered with empathy – especially when you’re responding to a crisis situation.
Empathy is more than sympathy.
Sympathy requires your social media teams to say the right thing, at the right time. For example, if someone’s connection goes down, the broadband provider might respond with an apology and a promise to look into the matter.
But, apologies can sound hollow and perfunctory at times. It’s not just saying sorry.
Empathy takes things a stage further.
The apology is backed-up by genuine understanding of the impact that a problem has on people’s lives. The brand may express regret, but it’s reinforced by it taking action to fix the problem.
For example, a broadband provider tweeting: “We apologise to customers who are experiencing service disruptions. We are looking into the cause of the problems and expect to have an update later today.” While this may be factual and deliver an apology of sorts, there’s no empathy in the statement. There is zero warmth.
But consider this one instead – “We’re sorry about the service issues you are experiencing today. Our engineers are investigating the issue urgently, and we hope to have an update soon.” A post like this sounds human and genuine, and shows the brand understands how important it is that a solution is found quickly.
Why you need to demonstrate empathy in your social media engagement
- Placing people at the heart of what you do
Empathy helps to keep you customer-centric in all of your communications and decisions and especially in community engagement. Sometimes, branded social media marketing responses can seem very “brand first” – as in, “this is why we’re amazing and better than our competitors”.
But most people don’t care about a brand’s response if it’s just self-promoting.
What they want to know is how your brand can help them.
By looking outward and structuring all community engagement around empathetic communication with the customer, your social media team will remember that everything it does should start with asking “why does the customer want this?” and “how will this help the customer meet their goals?”.
When your customers know that you have their interests in mind, they’re much more open to conversations and social sharing.
- Empathy is essential for creating and maintaining connections
The most powerful community engagement is fuelled by emotion. But it’s impossible to tap into that convincingly without being able and willing to communicate with empathy.
If your brand’s natural communication style is somewhat stilted and corporate, it can be difficult to show warmth with conviction.
Empathy lets you tap into emotions beyond the surface level.
If your loyal fans have an adverse reaction to one of your campaigns, taking an empathetic approach will help you to smooth things over.
- Taking an empathetic approach can help you calm crisis situations
If you’ve taken the time to build a loyal community, you need to make sure you continue to nurture it when a crisis hits. During a crisis, empathetic responses will be crucial to your brand’s reputation and recovery.
It’s a time when established communities can see an influx of outsiders, people who are not familiar with the brand, who are worried, angry or even campaigning against the brand or its actions. While people in your existing community have their view of the crisis informed by their loyalty to the brand, they will be watching how the brand responds to people who have justified concerns. It’s a crucial time as depending on the responses, this can reinforce your brand value to your community, or damage it through poor responses.
It’s harder to write empathetically when faced with the stress of a crisis situation, your community management team needs to try to put themselves in the shoes of people commenting. What sort of response would they hope to receive from the brand?